Burrow. (Courtesy Ezra Magazine)

Ithaca, N.Y. — Today we present our sixth installment of an Ithaca Voice series – this time, highlighting just a handful of the crazy cool things Cornell professors are researching, writing, designing, discovering, or (insert here) at any given time.

We have no doctrinal preferences and no academic prejudices. Our sole criteria is that the professor’s work be, as the headline suggests, “crazy cool.” And, no, we don’t have a precise definition of “crazy cool.”

(Got a professor we should highlight? Email jstein@ithacavoice.com.)

Without further ado…

1 – Diversity anxiety quelled by life goals?

The thought of becoming a minority can cause anxiety for some white people.

By 2050, the U.S. Census Bureau says that ethnic minorities, combined, will make up the majority of the U.S. population.

But a recent study by Cornell assistant professor of developmental psychology Anthony Burrow shows that white people with a “sense of purpose” – “a self-organizing life aim that organizes and stimulates goals”- are not as upset by the thought of increasing diversity.

Burrow. (Courtesy Ezra Magazine)

In the study, 205 white volunteers were surveyed about their lives and were asked whether they agree or disagree with statements like, “I am an active person in carrying out the plans I have set for myself.”

The study – completed in conjunction with graduate students Rachel Sumner and Maclen Stanley, as well as Patrick L. Hill, a psychologist at Ottawa’s Carleton University –  found that “after articulating (a) sense of purpose, many white participants in the online experiment were significantly more likely to prefer the more diverse city,” said Stanley.

“There may be a tendency for individuals to perceive diversity as threatening. For some whites, increasing diversity could mean the demise of their social influence, their values and their place in the world,” Burrow told the Cornell Chronicle. “Even imagining a more ethnically heterogeneous future society increases whites’ fear of and anger toward ethnic minorities.”

2 – Astronomers find “molecular needle in a cosmic haystack”

A new discovery by astronomers from Cornell, the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy and the University of Cologne in Germany has found that “the complex molecules needed for life may have their origins in interstellar space,” the Cornell Chronicle explained.

Rob Garrod. (Courtesy Cornell University)

Studying the gaseous star-forming region Sagittarius B2 (a region close to the center of the Milky Way’s galactic center), Rob Garrod, Cornell senior research associate at the Center for Radiophysics and Space Research, explained to the Cornell Chronicle that organic molecules found in that region typically consist of a straight line of carbon atoms.

The carbon structure of isopropyl cyanide, however, is branched – making it the first discovery of its kind.

Garrod said that the branched carbon structure of the molecule is a common feature in molecules that are needed for life. This discovery lends credibility to the notion that biologically crucial molecules – for example, amino acids – are produced even before planets like Earth are formed.

3 – Traffic delays in Los Angeles caused by single-occupant hybrid cars

While well-meaning state legislators in California were trying to spur the sales of hybrid cars, they unintentionally helped cause “a nightmare scenario” for drivers simply trying to get to and from work, said Antonio Bento, associate professor at the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.

Bento pumping gas. (Courtesy Cornell University)

Bento, who spearheaded the study, found that allowing single-occupant hybrid cars to operate within carpool lanes creates a significant amount of congestion — 30% higher than optimal levels. In addition, it costs $4,500 per car in adverse social costs annually, according to the Cornell Chronicle.

Economists have offered several suggestions to fix the issue – from charging a “congestion toll” to single-occupancy hybrid drivers in carpool lanes to having the state provide tax credits for hybrid vehicles.

The study was published in the August edition of the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy.

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Kyle Friend

A senior at Cornell University, Kyle covers the affordable housing crisis for the Ithaca Voice. Reach him through e-mail: kyleafriend@gmail.com.